By the end of 1962, SDS had grown to 8,000 members. Then, in 1964, events at the University of California at Berkeley revealed the possibility for a far broader mobilization of students in the name of participatory democracy. A Cold War “multiversity,” Berkeley was an immense, impersonal institution where enrollments in many classes approached 1,000 students. The spark that set student protests alight was a new rule prohibiting political groups from using a central area of the campus to spread their ideas. Students—including conservatives outraged at being barred from distributing their own literature—responded by creating the Free Speech movement. Freedom of expression, declared Mario Savio, a student leader, “represents the very dignity of what a human being is.... That’s what marks us off from the stones and the stars. You can speak freely.” Likening the university to a factory, Savio called on students to “throw our body against the machines.”

Police arresting Mario Savio, a leader of the Free Speech movement, as he addresses a crowd on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley in 1966.

Thousands of Berkeley students became involved in the protests in the months that followed. Their program moved from demanding a repeal of the new rule to a critique of the entire structure of the university and of an education geared toward preparing graduates for corporate jobs. When the university gave in on the speech ban early in 1965, one activist exulted that the students had succeeded in reversing “the worldwide drift from freedom.”

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!